The next time someone tells me one of Dallas’ strengths is that its city-manager form of government keeps its residents quarantined from the specter of “ward politics,” I’m going to be polite – and put my hand over my face when I laugh. This statement, repeated over and over and over by the people who run Dallas, just isn’t true. Doubters need only look to the recently concluded 14-1 imbroglio.
Ask yourself one question: Would what Dallas went through – a messy, expensive court fight, bad publicity, and enough racial polarization to last a lifetime – happen in a city with “ward politics”?
Sure it would.
That’s why we read about federal judges ordering new elections in Chicago, national black organizations boycotting New York, and congressional candidates focusing entire campaigns on obscure county officials in Los Angeles.
The big difference between Dallas and “ward politics” cities is that the others don’t apologize for practicing politics.
Why should they?
Be they full-time mayors in Philadelphia or part-time City Councilmen in Dallas, politicians practice politics. What should they practice? Medicine?
In “ward-politics” cities, 14-1 would have been no more than a simple disagreement among the parties involved. It certainly would not have turned into a crisis that threatened to tear the city apart.
A deal amenable to the participants – black, yellow, white and brown – would have been cut, and that would have been that.
Even the loony Texas Legislature knows this. It will redistrict the entire state – facing the same civil rights legislation requirements Dallas did – and hardly anyone will notice.
It’s time for the City establishment, from the members of the Citizen’s Council to the City Council to the City bureaucracy, to realize Dallas has “ward politics” just like Detroit. Denying the truth only makes the situation worse.
Yes, I’ve heard the Dallas politicians’ arguments about the terrible things we avoid because we have managed to remain above “ward politics.” Like scandals in the police department, bloated city budgets forcing huge tax increases, and the specter of politicians looking after themselves first and their constituents last.
Do you notice something amiss here?
There’s another name for “ward politics,” and it’s easy to see why the City has such a hard time dealing with the concept.
The other name is democracy.
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